How Can You Change Lives In Guatemala Using The Internet?
The Internet Society (ISOC) is a US-based 501(c)3 non-profit organization with more than 65,000 members. Their mission is to promote the open development, evolution, and use of the Internet for the benefit of all people throughout the world, focusing on enhancing public policies that enable open access and facilitating the development of open standards that run the backbone of the Internet. This project was made possible in part through a donation from the Internet Society.
In August 2015, the All Together Foundation, the parent foundation to Konojel, was approached to submit a grant application for the “Beyond the Net” funding program, which asks the question “How can you change lives using the Internet?” Since 2013, Konojel has used technology in its educational programs, integrating it into our Children’s Enrichment Program. Our initial work was done with the support of the PACE Foundation, World Possible, and its RACHEL project, which provides free offline educational materials in Spanish. At the time, RACHEL was an ideal solution for Konojel, as it provided a low barrier of entry (about $75 for a server and no month-to-month cost) to begin getting the children excited and comfortable using technology. We purchased a handful of tablet computers and started integrating them into our programming.
In early 2015, with support from the Gochnauer Family Foundation, Konojel began providing Internet service at our location for free for the beneficiaries and children in the Enrichment Program. There is a “homework cost” associated with attending school — an assignment for a 10 year old might be “find 10 birds online, copy the pictures into a Word document, and print it out.” This assignment would cost a student about fifty cents, a difficult-to-afford outlay for a family without much income. Konojel began providing homework help and free printing to help students, but bandwidth was insufficient and there was no funding dedicated to teaching technology.
It was with this background that All Together Foundation submitted a grant for the “Beyond the Net” program. Our grant was titled “Community Internet Center for Indigenous Mayans”. The main goal was to increase internet bandwidth and purchase computers and printers to expand program impact in the community. With the funding, we would be able to hire and train an additional 2-3 staff members to become technology liaisons to students as well as adults.
While the plan for the Internet Center is growing and changing, the basic premise is:
- 2 hours of open study hall in the morning
- 2 hours of basic computer literacy courses for Konojel children beneficiaries during a 3 month program
- 2 hours of open study hall in the evening
During these hours, a staff member is on-site to assist in troubleshooting and technology questions, as well as to help print and conduct training courses.
While this program has only been running for 1 month, we have already seen incredible success. We have been able to service as many as 35 students daily, eliminating the “homework cost” associated with attending middle and high-school. The 3-month training program in the Children’s Enrichment Program is preparing the children with basic computer skills, giving them confidence and know-how to move into the future. And it’s being conducted in their native language of Kaqchikel, something that does not happen at any of the local public schools. We’re planning to create “modern day pen-pals” using Skype to build relationships between Marquenses and people all over the world, and to look for other ways to use technology to change lives.
With the generous support of a local business, Blind Lemon’s, the Community Internet Center will be moving to a larger and better location to provide these services to the population at-large. We have also hired another technology educator to extend service hours and provide more personal help.
Konojel is the first Guatemalan organization to partner with ISOC, but will not be the last. A Guatemalan ISOC chapter is in the process of being formed, so please contact firstname.lastname@example.org and follow the Guatemala ISOC Chapter on Facebook if you are interested in joining us and continuing to change lives in Guatemala using the Internet.